Every now and then, an author comes along whose books I will read and reread. Their writings have such an impact on me. In my younger years, if a book stirred me to the point that I turned to it repeatedly as a source of hope, I often ended up feeling inspired to put words to paper myself. Of late, Michael Card has become that author for me. I’ve sought out more than one book by him. In addition, this past fall, I wrote an essay in direct response to the revelations he shared in A Sacred Sorrow. That essay is below.
I found contentment in a roundabout way. Prior to finding contentment, I spent a lot of time being disappointed and angry. And then a lot of time complaining about and questioning my faith. When I finally began to search for a better way to handle my discontent with God, I found it through lament. This led to praise, which ultimately led to a stronger relationship with God.
What is discontent? Is it just not getting what you want? Is it questioning God? For me, it was one situation after another that didn’t turn out as desired or expected: Why can’t I stay at my current job? Why haven’t I made any friends in my new church? Why doesn’t God heal my friend? I even began to ask, “Where are you, God?”
The Bible contains many examples of devout believers who displayed discontent. Elijah felt the world was against him, berated himself as a coward, and even wanted to die. Another prophet, Jeremiah, accused God of being unfair. He felt that God called him into service, only to have no one listen to or understand him. In looking at the violence and injustice around him, Habakkuk wondered where God was and why God didn’t set things right.
Based on their examples, my complaining to God wasn’t the real issue. Instead, the problem is that I stopped directing those questions to God or hanging around for His answers. I simply let myself feel disappointed and angry. This led to my blaming God, not only for all the smaller and inconsequential things that weren’t going right in my life, but also for all the bigger and serious things that weren’t going right in the world. After a time, I became stuck in doubts, not over whether God cared, but about whether God even existed. This is when discontent for a Christian can be a dangerous emotion.
Discontent can also be a productive emotion, in that it can enrich your walk with God. When searching for a better way to handle my discontent, I remembered the book of Psalms. Many of the songs within Psalms are penned by David. Being the youngest of eight brothers, David had birth order stacked against him. The list of his other sufferings includes: When Samuel comes looking for God’s anointed, no one even thinks of David who is tending his father’s sheep in the wilderness. Next, when David finds a friend, this friend turns out to the heir to the throne by birth. Although Jonathan never ended up showing any jealousy, the situation often put the two in difficult situations.
In his songs, David often complains about his enemies and about being forsaken by God. The depths of David’s passion continually surprises me. David wrote a lot about hating those who tried to harm him: to the point that David asked for God to break the teeth of his enemies, wound them, melt them away, and let none of them live. Moreover, David expressed a desire to bathe in the blood of the wicked. David also often wrote about being forsaken by God: to the point that David asks God how long will he be forgotten, how long God will hide His face, and how long David will cry out but receive no rest and no answer.
David never acted on any of his calls for revenge. He chose instead to heap his disappointment, anger, and complaints on God. In contrast, I tried to deal with all my frustrations and sorrows on my own with negative results.
Our culture encourages independence, but the Psalms shows that this isn’t necessarily best. In heaping his disappointment, anger, and complaints on God, David developed an amazingly intimate relationship with God. And, in turn, David received comfort and encouragement from God. This is evident in how his attitude frequently switched within each of his songs. One minute David is railing against his enemies and the next he is praising God for being a fortress and showing steadfast love. One minute David is accusing God of being silent and not listening to him and the next he is declaring his thanks and blessings to God.
God understands that at times I feel worn out. He knows that when life disappoints, I feel grief. When life is cruel, God doesn’t discourage my anger and might even call me to speak about my discontent. In other words, God doesn’t want any of us to fake happiness about our personal lives, no matter the size of our problems. He also doesn’t expect Christians to ignore wrongs in the world; although, like all the prophets of old, we must ultimately accept that He is the one in control. Discontent has a valid place in our lives.
I continue to grow in my understanding of lament. Sometimes my complaints are simple, such as a sleepless night. Other times my complaints are grander, such as losing my mother when I was only four. The size of the complaint isn’t important. What’s critical is that I admit that I have complaints. Only then can I accept and acknowledge to God my need of Him. Only then can I begin to receive the comfort from God that He longs to give. And only then can I begin to get a taste of true contentment.